Edom heads the list of Israel's enemies in Psalm 83. From the days of Esau himself, a burning hatred of Israel has been nourished among the Edomites. God says through the prophet Amos, "For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever" (Amos 1:11). If any people would form and lead a confederacy against the Israelites, it would be Edom.
As the man Esau matured, married, and had children, he made critical alliances with surrounding peoples, recorded in Genesis 36. In writing this book of beginnings, Moses took the effort to include an entire chapter on the Edomites alone. He was careful to include specific details about who was born to whom and who ruled this or that area. In addition, he reminds the reader several times of his subject:
» Verse 1: "This is the genealogy of Esau, who is Edom."
» Verse 8: "Esau is Edom."
» Verse 19: ". . . Esau, who is Edom. . . ."
» Verse 43: "Esau was the father of the Edomites."
When God repeats Himself, He is usually trying to convey an important matter. He is reminding Israel not to forget that the Edomites have their source in Esau. To deal with them correctly, the Israelites would have to know who the Edomites were and be prepared for their predictable and incessant attacks—and consciously or not, the Edomites never have stopped trying to win back what Esau lost to Jacob! Further, we today will readily recognize them by the biblical clues recorded about their forefather.
In introducing the family of Esau, Moses includes the names and derivations of Esau's wives: "Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite; Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; and Basemath, Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth" (Genesis 36:2-3). Esau bound himself by marriage to the Hittites, the Hivites—both Canaanite tribes—and the Ishmaelites.
The Hittites, descended from Heth, son of Canaan, were, by far, the strongest and biggest of these tribes, possessing a huge empire that stretched from Asia Minor to Palestine, with its capital in what is today central Turkey. The "Land of Hatti" was the major empire of Abraham's time, having the commercial, cultural, and military power to influence the entire Levant.
The Hivites were a related but less numerous people living in the land of Canaan. They may be those whom the Bible calls elsewhere "Horites" and whom history terms "Hurrians," a people centered in northern Mesopotamia, who had once been a dominant people in the region. In Esau's time, they seem to have had several strongholds in central Canaan, including Shechem. Deuteronomy 2:12, 22 records that the Edomites destroyed and perhaps absorbed a branch of Horites living in Seir, taking their land for themselves.
It is now clear how close the ties were between the Edomites, the Hittites, the Hivites, and the Ishmaelites. They were all related by marriage and blood!
We find another blood-connection in Genesis 36:11-12: "And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. Now Timna was the concubine of Eliphaz, Esau's son, and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz. These were the sons of Adah, Esau's wife." The Amalekites, descended from Amalek, a grandson of Esau, fall naturally into the anti-Israel alliance. Verse 16 mentions that Amalek became a chief among the Edomites. Although the son of a concubine, he nonetheless became head of a significant tribe, which in later times distinguished itself as a ruthless enemy of Israel.
Notice, too, that Teman, since he is listed first, is probably the firstborn son of Eliphaz, who is the firstborn son of Esau. Teman's name became attached to the central part of Edomite territory, where he and his clan evidently settled. A city by the name of Teman existed not far from Petra. Habakkuk 3:3 shows the area of Teman in parallel with Mount Paran, which some consider to be a poetic reference to Mount Sinai, but it more likely refers to Mount Seir in central Edom. It is helpful to remember that some of the prophecies concerning Esau use Teman as an alternative name for Edom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 36:12: